It’s uncertain how he intends to reconcile his intentions with the First Amendment, but the Leader of the Free World appears to have taken a step toward limiting religious freedom in the United States. A tweet early Saturday morning by President Trump had the White House press office and others scrambling over the weekend to clarify his meaning.
- @realDonaldTrump Iran is a horrible country, but they have 1 thing right – they can choose 1 religion. They chose the wrong 1, but the SHINING STAR of the free world, the U.S., can choose the right one – Christianity, God’s religion. Therefore, I am adding “Theodore” to my name.
While the main theme of the tweet was clear – President Trump would like to declare the United States a Christian country – it is unclear why he believed changing his name would help him achieve that goal. According to a source speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to report on Mr. Trump’s private golf club conversations, the president was overheard saying, “Let them figure it out. Someone will get it eventually.”
By early afternoon, the consensus within the most of the country’s media focused on the word theocracy. The smart bet seemed to be that Mr. Trump believed he could declare a theocracy if he, as president, had Theodore as part of his name. In other words, Theodore-ocracy à theocracy.
As the nation and world waited for a correction or clarification, legal scholars discarded the name issue and weighed in on the constitutional concerns should the president declare a theocracy. The Constitution’s first amendment states very clearly that no laws respecting an establishment of religion are allowed.
Except for Cooley Law School’s James Boyden who appeared in a panel discussion on Fox News’ Watter’s World Saturday evening, the legal scholars were unanimous that the president’s actions would be struck down by the United States Supreme Court should he declare a theocracy to restrict the practice of non-Christian religions. Mr. Boyden. on the other hand, pointed out that the amendment sates clearly that no law shall be passed by Congress, but that it does not address Executive Branch actions made in the interest of national security.
“If the president decides that those who practice non-Christian religions pose a risk to the nation, he has the authority to undertake any action he deems prudent to protect the people who elected him” Mr. Boyden stated. “Should religious freedom be trimmed a little to keep the country safe, that is a sacrifice that Americans should be willing to make.”
Mr. Boyden expressed confidence that the Supreme Court would agree with him and noted that this executive branch action would not differ significantly from their decision to allow Mr. Trump’s travel ban to go into effect. “Let’s face it,” Mr. Boyden told Jesse Watters on the program, “Mr. Trump’s many comments make it clear that the travel ban is based on religion and the Supreme Court gave it their stamp of approval.”
Later Saturday evening, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed those sentiments during a press briefing. “I have spoken with the president. His top priority is the safety of the American people and he believes all steps that put a barrier – similar to a southern border wall – between us and those who want to kill us is a good thing,” Ms. Sanders answered in response to a question about the president’s intentions. “The president is confident that this is a legal action as it’s the next logical step to the travel ban sanctioned by the Supreme Court.”
Ms. Sanders appeared to have less patience when addressing the issue of Mr. Trump’s “Theodore” tweet. “I think it’s disgusting how you in the media attack a person for making a name change. It happens everyday in this country, many times over, and you castigate the president for making a perfectly normal change just because he’s the president.” When responding to a follow-up question about the association Mr. Trump appears to make between the name Theodore and the word theocracy, Ms. Sander’s replied, “The president made no such connection. That’s just the media being the media; Mr. Trump’s tweet was perfectly clear. That’s all for today,” Ms. Sanders concluded.
The Sunday morning news programs offered little new information with the president’s supporters taking the national security line and his detractors discussing the potential battles in the federal courts. There’s no word yet on when a formal executive action will be signed by the president or exactly what it will entail.